Author : Sushant Sareen

Originally Published 2018-06-20 09:37:17 Published on Jun 20, 2018
The government is burying its head in the sand when it comes to the Kashmir problem, repeating exactly what it did 30 years ago.
Kashmir and the wages of hubris
Some years ago, the former Research & Analysis Wing (R&AW) chief Vikram Sood—who apart from being a master of his trade is also one of the most cerebral Intelligence chiefs this country has seen—advised that every few months, one must keep repeating what one has said earlier. According to him, Indians are so impervious and obtuse that saying something just once simply doesn’t filter down. Taking his advice, let me repeat something that I have said many times in the past, not just in seminars and lectures, but also in my writings. In the mid 1980s, there were many people who would come to our house to meet my father, who was then a leading expert on issues like Pakistan, Kashmir and Punjab. The news from Kashmir wasn’t good. They would inform my father that great tumult was building up in Kashmir, that it was a volcano waiting to burst, that a huge anti-India sentiment had developed: the infamous 1983 cricket match between India and West Indies in Srinagar was probably an early warning signal that everyone ignored. The people bringing the bad news were politicians, civil servants, even some Intelligence officers. When these grim tidings were shared by the “mandarins” in Delhi (never has a word been more misused while describing the babus sitting in Delhi, but that’s another story), the attitude was one suffused with hubris. Instead of acknowledging that there was a problem that needed to be addressed seriously, they preferred to underplay it and brush it under the carpet. The political class remained utterly blasé about the growing unrest and played their sordid games. This only exacerbated the problem and fed into the narrative being built by anti-India elements in Jammu and Kashmir. Both the politicians and bureaucrats in Delhi were confident that the Kashmiris would never rise up in revolt and if some of them did, one crack of the whip would push things back to normal. But today, it’s been over three decades and normalcy still eludes us in Kashmir. The Intelligence czars of that time in Kashmir (some of who are now “advising” us on what to do and what not to do) were so busy golfing and hobnobbing with the elite that when all hell broke loose, no one knew what hit us. The babudom in Delhi was somnolent while Kashmir was on the boil. They neither took into account the regional dynamics—the Afghan jihad and its ripple effects, including how much it emboldened Pakistan to try the same tactic and strategy in J&K—nor were they aware of how the ground was shifting from under India's feet in the state. The rest is history. India saved Kashmir literally by the skin of its teeth. But things again seem to be slipping out of control. The signs of trouble brewing should have set alarm bells ringing in both Srinagar and New Delhi way back in 2008, during the Amarnath Yatra crisis. The disturbances in 2010 only reconfirmed that things were sliding. By 2012-13, incidents of terrorist violence should have served as a wake-up call that the terror machinery was back in business. Quite like in the mid 1980s, people on the ground in Kashmir started warning of the growing unease in the state. Young boys were going “missing” and were believed to have joined terrorist ranks. The numbers weren’t big, but it indicated a trend. An ecosystem of separatism and militancy was flourishing right under the nose of the Indian state—propaganda and brainwashing in educational institutions, narratives peddled on social and mainstream media, bazaar talk of something big waiting to happen. The tell-tale signs were all there, provided someone wanted to see them, and more importantly, someone wanted to do something about them. Sadly, 30 years later, the attitude in Delhi was no different from what it was in the mid 1980s. The security establishment was again cocky and confident. According to them, unlike the late 1980s when all hell broke loose, this time around, the security grid was robust and India wouldn’t be taken by surprise. The security forces were present in adequate numbers and had ears on the ground. This part was true, but the problem wasn’t so much that there were no ears on the ground but that no one in Delhi, or even Srinagar, was listening to what these ears were hearing. Again there was insufficient recognition of forces outside India—not just the usual suspect, Pakistan, but also international jihadist terror movements—that were providing inspiration and instigation to youth in the Valley. So despite having clawed back after paying a very heavy price in blood and treasure, India has again let the situation slip out of its control. This speaks volumes about the administrative and political model of governance. The Indian model of statecraft seems to be more inclined to managing a crisis rather than pre-empting or preventing it. Governments refuse to do anything about a budding crisis until the water crosses its nose, often waiting for the water to go above the head. Of course, the political and permanent establishment does tinker at the edges of the crisis but scrupulously avoids taking any difficult decisions. The Ostrich syndrome—burying your head in the sand in the hope that the storm will pass you by—seems to be the hallmark of the Indian model of statecraft. Part of the problem is there is no real expertise on Kashmir. There are any number of individual experts on Kashmir—soldiers who have served there, journalists and scholars who have covered and studied the issue, politicians and bureaucrats with experience on the ground—but at an institutional level, where policy is to be framed and forged, there is no expertise or institutional memory for decision making. The home ministry and Kashmir department is a scandal, because it’s often headed by someone who has no idea of what Kashmir is all about. In other words, these guys are just time servers and bean counters. Even officials with experience and reasonable expertise are people who might have done tours of duty in Kashmir, but do not follow it regularly, much less religiously. Forget people, look at the need to build up a database. Every word uttered, every video, every audio clip, every pamphlet—it should all be collected and collated in a way that linkages can be drawn, profiles can be built, evidence can be marshalled, and campaigns can be devised to defeat the enemy propaganda. This isn’t to say there are no records kept, only that they are so tackily kept that when needed, they aren’t available. Is this how a serious country deals with one of the most serious threats? The storm in almost upon us, and India is still pretending it is not a big deal. It is almost as though the policymakers are suffering some kind of brain freeze and are unable to think clearly of a strategy which will at least mitigate the mess we are in. The tools and tactics being deployed—limited to using the blunt instrument of force against terrorists and armed separatists—is at best smoothening the edges, not solving the problem. Much tougher decisions are required to cleanse the administration; detoxify the education system; clamp down and close the financing networks; reform the judiciary; fix the criminal justice system; empower pro-India elements; end political ambivalence and double-speak on the issue of militancy and separatism, especially at the state level; and manage the information flow and gain dominance over it, so that the anti-India narrative can be countered and debunked in real time. None of this is easy, but it’s needed to retrieve, rectify, and finally normalise the situation. At this stage, there is still a possibility that this can be done. If the government balks at doing what needs to be done right now, then the very same things will still have to be done later, albeit with a much heavier hand.
This commentary originally appeared in NewsLaundry
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Sushant Sareen

Sushant Sareen

Sushant Sareen is Senior Fellow at Observer Research Foundation. His published works include: Balochistan: Forgotten War, Forsaken People (Monograph, 2017) Corridor Calculus: China-Pakistan Economic Corridor & China’s comprador   ...

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